Monday, October 2, 2017

Students Acting Slothy? Teach Them Something Gothy!

The honeymoon is officially over, and it's about this time that students reveal subtle symptoms of slothy sluggishness.  Consequently, around late September/early October, I reach deep in my literacy bag of tricks for my go-to Gothic Literature unit.  Reading spine-tingling excerpts from DraculaFrankenstein, or Edgar Allan Poe are all but guaranteed to reignite enthusiasm from my students and possibly even the most reluctant of readers who have yet to reveal their literary chops.  (My hope is, in keeping with the theme, they are merely keeping me in suspense!)




That said, before plunging into the dark world of castles, chambers, and creepy cloisters, students require background information on Gothic Literature itself.  It is at this time we examine five basic elements of Gothic Literature, which I have classified into the following categories:


5 Elements of Gothic Literature

1) Elements of Superstition
  • Presence of ghosts, vampires, etc.
  • Unexplained sounds, sights, occurrences
  • Eerie atmosphere
  • Mysterious tone adds to building of tension

2) Emotions and Passions
  • Emotion surpasses rationality
  • Spells of hysteria, lust, and anxiety
  • Frequent crying and screaming
  • Detailed sensory description revealing characters’ passions
  • Characters experience terror and hysteria due to miasmic atmosphere


3) Broken Families
  • Families are often broken, incestuous, or murderous
  • Women subject to lustful wrongdoings 
  • Male characters are tyrannical
  • Women depicted as damsels in distress
  • Family unit confining, from which characters must escape

4) Eerie, mysterious setting
  • Claustrophobic, dark venues such as an old castle, mansion, or abbey
  • Places of fear and dread that portray the world as deteriorating
  • Desperate, dark ruined scenery
  • Surrounding area is dismal and rotting, often adding a haunting flavor of impending doom


5) Distinctive Characters
  • Characters are lonely, isolated, and oppressed
  • Presence of a tyrannical villain 
  • Action revolves around an unrequited love, or illicit love affair 
  • A vendetta or vengeance is a prominent theme

After my students are fully inducted into the world of Gothic Literature, it's time for them to write their own stories.  For inspiration, I offer some creepy music, telling them to listen at their own risk.  (Note to Blog Reader: Play at your own risk!)




Assignment: Write a Gothic Story...

The requirements are as follows:
  • Setting must be a large old house or graveyard
  • An unexplainable, scary event occurs in the house or graveyard 
  • Presence of the supernatural, such as a ghost, vampire, or werewolf
  • Unexplained phenomenon, such as doors slamming shut or lights turning on/off by themselves
  • Highly emotional characters who cry and scream
  • Implementation of Gothic symbols, such as a staircase, shadows, or a full moon.  

With a little inspiration from the darker works of the literary canon, students can't help but get their Goth on.  Whether you are a teacher, writer, or simply have a nagging nostalgia for Manic Panic, it's the perfect time to reach inside YOUR creepy bag of tricks and write your own Gothic tale.  



For more literary Goth inspiration, go to Kimberly's teaching store at:

Sunday, September 3, 2017

A Parent's Guide to Surviving Middle School

Back to school is right around the corner.  Only this time your child is entering middle school – that rite of passage where they will undergo academic, social, and developmental challenges like never before.  While your eager middle schooler is raring to go, you may be secretly asking yourself if you’re truly ready for this auspicious journey.  The answer is Yes!  With today’s challenges, middle school may seem like the new high school, but below are six tips on how to make the transition seamless for both you and your child.  Get your brave on and learn how to survive (and thrive) as a parent of a middle schooler…



6 Steps to Swinging Into Middle School With Ease

Prepare:  Middle school isn’t exactly The Hunger Games – but you will fare much better if you know the rules.  Procure a copy of the school’s handbook and read it, ideally with your child.  Be familiar with the school’s policies.  For instance, does the school have a dress code?  Is there a general class supplies list?  What is the protocol for absences, medications, cell phone usage, etc.?  Make sure to complete all emergency card information with several contacts and up-to-date phone numbers for easy communication.

Volunteer:  Join the PTA, PTO, or Booster Club.  Introduce yourself to the principal, counselor, and teachers letting them know you are available to assist wherever needed.
With school funding at a premium, some ways parents can help are volunteering in the computer lab, chaperoning field trips, selling concessions, leading a book club, or supervising dances.  If working with students one-on-one, be sure to check the district’s policy on parent volunteer fingerprinting and/or background checks.

Be a Study Buddy:  Check homework once a week or more if your child is struggling. Designate a study time and place free of distractions with adequate supplies, including pencils, paper, dictionary, and calculator.  Calendar long-term projects, and be available for assistance or hire a tutor if needed.  Many schools offer free after-the-bell tutoring programs or intervention services.  Encourage and teach time management and organization skills – before social networking, cell phone, and television time.

Communicate:  In elementary school, teachers call home if there is an academic issue, but in middle school the report card is often a parent’s first notification that their child is struggling.  To avoid Report Card Shock Syndrome and address problems early on, attend Back-to-School Night and all parent/teacher conferences.  Introduce yourself to your child’s teachers, provide email contact information, and let them know you want to work as a team.  In middle school, each teacher has their own way of posting homework, grading, and communicating with parents.  Ask for a copy of the class syllabus. Communication is key to your child’s success.

Get Social:  Your child’s circle of friends will most likely be at the top of their priority list. This is a good time to rally your own parental BFF’s, if nothing else for moral support.  In short, get to know the parents of your child’s friends.  Arrange a lunch to establish common norms for sleepovers, social networking, etc.  Discuss bullying and implementing appropriate safety precautions.  Talk over the school’s vision and what you can do as parents to make it the best place it can be.

Be a Cheerleader:  As your child enters middle school, he or she will tackle academic, social, and peer related issues.  There will be laughter and there will be tears.  Let your child know that you are their greatest fan and support.  Encourage their strengths and interests with extracurricular activities such as clubs, sports, band, and foreign language. When a problem arises, be there to help but also just to listen.  At the end of the day, sometimes a tween just needs a sympathetic ear.  Middle school is a challenge, but never let your child forget that you are their ultimate BFF and secret cheerleader.

Have a tween going into middle school?  Make sure they feel positive and prepared with Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School: 




This nostalgic read is both fun and informative in its perspective of middle school existence. The author's use of tweenie vernacular adds to character development and theme relevance.  - Readers Favorite

(Dana) knows her audience well, and has pitched this book to them perfectly, packing useful information into a fun, frothy read....Any sixth grade girl who's facing middle school as if it were a firing squad will find great comfort here.  Both entertaining and useful, How to Survive is a winner.  Starred Review - BlueInk Review 

Lucy and CeCee's guide to middle-school survival is a fast-paced, funny, and insightful book that will serve to clarify typical teen lingo and behavior for adults and give guidelines to tween and teenage kids who are having trouble navigating the middle-school milieu. - Clarion Reviews

But while the girls' teachings are often amusing, what really makes Dana's book exceptional are the girls themselves....Lucy and CeCee's target audience may consist solely of tweens, but this is a book that can educate readers of any age. - Kirkus Reviews

With plenty of humor and adventure, "Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School" is a strongly recommended addition to young adult fiction collections, not to be missed.  - Midwest Book Review


Monday, August 14, 2017

Join Me at Killer Nashville!



Join me Saturday, August 26th, at the Killer Nashville Writers Conference as I present about writing suspense for Young Adults.



Saturday, August 26th, 2017 
Embassy Suites Hotel - Franklin, TN

Event description: The Killer Nashville International Writers’ Conference was created in 2006 by author/filmmaker Clay Stafford in an effort to bring together forensic experts, writers, and fans of crime and thriller literature.  It is indeed a killer conference (pun intended!) as aspiring and established writers connect with other industry professionals at panel discussions, breakout sessions, agent/editor roundtables, a moonshine and wine tasting party, and a killer mock crime scene!  Let the thrills and chills begin!!

Friday, July 28, 2017

20 Ways to Collaborate With Your Literacy Coach

After twenty years in the classroom, this school year I will be transitioning from English teacher to literacy coach.  In the past, I have worked with some amazing coaches who inspired, collaborated, and brought out the best in teachers and some not-so-wonderful coaches who took extended coffee breaks only to discuss the latest rose ceremony on The Bachelor.   I’m hoping to be the first type (not that there is anything wrong with The Bachelor)!

Coaching is a collaborative process that has the potential to maximize learning and enhance classroom instruction.  However, many teachers are apprehensive about working with coaches, especially if trust and confidentiality have not been firmly established.  That said, a literacy coach can be your most valuable go-to resource.  Specifically, a coach can help with planning, data analysis, and that oh-so-important non-evaluative instructional feedback.  (Isn’t it better to know you’re not providing sufficient wait time before your unannounced observation?)

Literacy coaches want nothing more than to build on your instructional strengths, helping you be the best in the classroom.  If you don’t think you possibly have enough time in the day to collaborate with your literacy coach, think again!  Most coaches have clocked in hundreds of lessons, strategies, and assessments and understand what comes with the daily challenges of teaching like no one else in the building.  Through their experience and expertise, they can help you work more efficiently, cogitate on lessons, and close the achievement gap because that is exactly what they are trained to do.  

Whether you are a first year teacher or a seasoned veteran, make it a goal this year to work closely with your literacy coach.  By engaging in a trusted partnership, you will naturally refine and reflect on your own instructional practice.  Not sure how to start the process?  Below are twenty ways to initiate collaboration with your literacy coach:  

20 Ways to Initiate Collaboration 

1) I’m starting a novel unit on (____________________title of book).  Would you help me brainstorm a kick-off activity that will spark interest?

2) These are my latest benchmark scores.  Will you help me analyze my students’ data for strengths and weaknesses?

3) I need a new strategy for teaching vocabulary besides drill and kill.  Do you have any go-to’s?

4) Will you observe my class for questioning patterns?  I always feel like the same students answer whenever we have a discussion. 

5) I need to make new reading groups based on differentiated ability level.  Can you look over this data and assist me?

6) I want to try close reading annotation of complex texts but need some guidance.  Do you have any suggestions for resources?  

7) Do you have any good rubrics for narrative writing?  (or expository, argumentative, descriptive, etc.)

8) Will you help me evaluate my students’ group projects?  I need a second set of eyes.  

9) I’ve been thinking our department could benefit from a study group but am too overwhelmed to lead it.  Are you interested?

10) My evaluation is coming up next week.  Can I show you my lesson plan?

11) I need a quick formative assessment to check for understanding before ending my lesson.  Can you help me?

12) A few of my students just are not getting the concept of active/passive voice (or another skill).  Can you come in and do a small group lesson?

13) I’m doing a gallery walk today and want some feedback on student engagement.  Can you come in and share your observations?

14) I’m feeling overwhelmed with the next nine week’s Scope and Sequence?  Can you help me plan?

15) My students do not understand the importance of transitional phrases.  Would you like to co-teach a writing lesson together?

16) I could use some professional development on using anchor charts in the classroom.  Can we have a session during the next PD day?

17) My morning meetings are getting stale.  Do you have some SEL ideas that will set a positive tone for the day?

18) My Tier 1 RTI class has off-the-chart scores but is bored.  Do you have any inspiring PBL activities?

19) I want to set some new instructional goals for the next nine weeks.  Can you help?

20) So what did you think of the last episode of The Bachelor?  Let’s process…



As posted on Edutopia:  


Monday, June 26, 2017

Mood and Tone: A Lesson in Author's Style

Teaching tweens the nuances of mood and tone can be a challenge.  The terms are often interchangeable i.e., misused, and in a middle schooler's mind, they are sort of formless and abstract.  Yet, mood and tone are a very powerful literary concept.  They are literally what give text its "texture."


Enter my go-to visual Mood/Tone guy:




As the little guy above illustrates, the drive-through version of tone is the author's attitude toward the subject, and mood is the feeling of the reader.

Specifically, to teach tone, I refer to the anti-phony Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye:

  • "All morons hate it when you call them a moron.
  • “If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she’s late? Nobody.”
  • “Catholics are always trying to find out if you’re Catholic.”
Holden’s tone is bitterly sarcastic and critical as he ruminates on the nature of things and the hypocrisy of people.  Salinger's tone is achieved through word choice.

Some words used to identify tone could be:
  1. Anxious
  2. Bold
  3. Confrontational
  4. Curious
  5. Dismissive
  6. Encouraging
  7. Hip
  8. Hopeful
  9. Open
  10. Overbearing
  11. Passionate
  12. Sarcastic
  13. Smarmy
  14. Suspicious
  15. Uncouth
  16. Upbeat
  17. Urbane
  18. Wisecracking
*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

To teach mood, I present Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken":

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

The gloomy, somber mood belies a voice and feeling of regret.  The speaker took the road less traveled, but wishes he could have traveled both.  The reader is left with the grave, somewhat melancholic fact that we only have one life to live, and choice is everything.

Some words used to identify mood could be:
  1. Alarming
  2. Brooding
  3. Buoyant
  4. Comical
  5. Confining
  6. Cool
  7. Dark
  8. Fantastical
  9. Hopeful
  10. Light
  11. Melancholy
  12. Ominous
  13. Oppressive
  14. Relaxed
  15. Sexy
  16. Spooky
  17. Suspenseful
  18. Warm

So forge ahead.  Demystify mood and tone, and teach author's style with aplomb.  Your students will catch on in no time, hopefully eager to hone their own writing style.

For more classroom activities and lessons on mood/tone and other literary concepts, visit my store at TeachersPayTeachers:

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Sensational Teen and Tween Summer Reads

As we all fondly recall, summer vacation is the ultimate!  Staying up late into the night, basking in the golden sun, slurping up frothy ice cream concoctions, and yes - hopefully reading a good book or two or three...or three in one day.  And why not?  It's summer, after all.

Here is a list of twelve of my 2017 fave summer reads for tweens and teens.  The list includes some classics and some contemporary, depending on personal choice.  Either way, tweens/teens will have a blast getting their read on!!!



Kimberly's 2017 Summer Reading List for Tweens and Teens


1) The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky

2) Lord of the Flies - William Golding

3) The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros

4) The Upside of Unrequited - Becky Albertalli

5) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou

6) To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

7) The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton

8) The Best of Roald Dahl - Roald Dahl

9) Once and For All - Sarah Dessen

10) The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

11) Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher

12) Kill All Happies - Rachel Cohn


HAPPY READING!!!!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Junior League Sponsors All Booked Up!

I had the pleasure of participating in the Junior League of Nashville's All Booked Up this weekend.  It was a fun-filled event that served to inspire young readers with readings from local authors, character meet and greets, and writing workshops!  Additionally, the JLN reached out to young minds ranging from Kindergarten to 4th grade with a registration drive for the Nashville Public Library’s Summer Reading Challenge.  The best part of this inspiring event – kids left with a bag full of books to start their very own home library!



All Booked Up is sure to gain momentum and public awareness in the upcoming years!  I know as a local author, teacher, and literacy specialist, the JLN's community focus on local literacy is invaluable.  Thank you, Junior League of Nashville, for your strategic partnership in achieving literacy competency across the cradle-to-career continuum!  For more information on All Booked Up or to become a Junior League of Nashville sponsor, visit https://www.jlnashville.org